FLINT - A student accused of punching a Northwestern-Edison teacher in the face was acquitted of assault charges after contending she acted in self-defense after the teacher grabbed her hair.
The student, Brittanee Barnes, was found not guilty by a Genesee District Court jury on Friday. The incident occurred March 24 at Northwestern, 2138 W. Carpenter Road.
Barnes has since graduated and is now an interior design student at Baker College in Muskegon.
Barnes, 19, claimed she hit the female Northwestern art teacher twice in the face after the teacher grabbed her by the hair. Multiple witnesses testified that they saw a chunk of hair on the ground in the school hallway following the altercation, said Matthew Norwood, the attorney for Barnes.
The case is a reminder that teachers are not above the law, Norwood said.
"I would like to see teachers follow state law," he said. "Teachers aren't allowed to use corporal punishment on students. The teacher was trying to physically discipline her. You can't grab students and physically make them do what you want them to do."
United Teachers of Flint President Steve Burroughs said he did not attend the trial, but hopes the jury decision does not result in more students assaulting their teachers. Burroughs said student attacks on teachers is already a growing problem in the district.
"Any time a teacher is assaulted we take it very, very seriously," Burroughs said. "I know this teacher was hurt physically. But it would be unfair for me to question the jury's wisdom because I wasn't there.
"But my concern is if this reinforces to students that it's OK to assault a teacher. We all know it's not. I would hope the students don't interpret it that way."
Norwood said the jury decision holds teachers accountable for their actions, but does not give students permission to assault teachers.
"There's a fine line between having to defend yourself and having a teacher lay hands on you," Norwood said. "This teacher went over that line when she pulled out a medium chunk of hair and assaulted my client. Just because you're a teacher does not mean you're above the rules."
Flint school officials said no discipline will be brought against the teacher in response to the jury decision. The teacher is now at McKinley Middle School in Flint.
"The burden of proof in a criminal case and showing negligent actions of a district employee have different burdens of proof," said David Comsa, executive director of human resources for Flint schools.
Flint administrators originally had recommended expulsion of the student for the incident, but later rescinded that move and the student was allowed to graduate, said Larry Watkins, acting director of pupil personnel services for the district.
The Journal could not reach the teacher involved in the case for comment.
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